Following decades of unbridled urban growth, it is difficult to imagine how Tampa Bay, the state’s largest open water estuary, has not suffered a complete and irreversible ecological calamity.
Fortunately, the bay has many defenders who fought to bring it back from the brink of disaster and continue to safeguard this important resource from ruin.
Tampa Bay Statistics
- At high tide, Tampa Bay’s surface area is almost 400 square miles.
- Five bridges cross Tampa Bay: Clearwater Bayside Bridge, Courtney Campbell Causeway, Gandy Bridge, Howard Frankland Bridge and Sunshine Skyway Bridge.
- The average depth of the bay is only 11 feet.
- More than 2 million people live in three counties bordering Tampa Bay, including Hillsborough, Manatee and Pinellas counties.
- The Port of Tampa is the largest port in Florida and the 10th largest port in the United States.
Fixing Tampa Bay
Following decades of unrestricted pollution, a movement to clean up Tampa Bay began to gather momentum in the 1970s, climaxing with the Tri-County Areawide Environment Impact Study in 1979.
The Agency on Bay Management, the natural resources committee of the Tampa Bay Regional Council, formed in 1985 to address issues and opportunities affecting the bay. It has evolved into a forum for open discussion on issues affecting the estuary.
The agency supports the efforts of the Tampa Bay Estuary Program.
Tampa Bay Estuary Program
Formed in 1991 and reorganized in 1998, the Tampa Bay Estuary Program coordinates protection and restoration strategies. The organization examines problems impacting the bay, identifies ways to resolve problems and provides grants to community groups to absorb the community in efforts to restore the estuary.
On its website, the Tampa Bay Estuary Program offers a number of suggestions to help ensure the longevity of Tampa Bay’s ecosystem. Some tips are nothing more than common sense: Conserve water, drive less and carpool more often, and take part in regularly scheduled shoreline cleanups or habitat restoration projects.
Planting a Florida-friendly yard, for instance, helps the environment because native, drought tolerant plants require less water, fertilizer and pesticides, thereby reducing harmful runoff.
The Tampa Bay Estuary Program also encourages residents to limit the use toxic products; to dispose of such materials properly when their use cannot be avoided and to have septic tanks pumped out every three to five years. When enjoying Tampa Bay, the program urges boaters to heed channel markers to avoid damaging sea grass beds.
For those living on the water, avoid pruning mangroves and consider replacing older seawalls with a natural shoreline.
Tampa Bay Watch
Tampa Bay Watch engages in habitat restoration and protection activities, often utilizing community volunteers to achieve its goals.
According to the organization’s website, 2007 saw the successful completion of several projects, including six salt marsh restoration programs, the installation of 857 oyster domes and more than 1,200 feet of oyster bars, the construction of 24 new monofilament recycling stations and the identification and removal of 32 derelict crab traps.
In addition to these successes, the organization educated more than 3,000 students through the marine science center and outreach programs.
Tampa Bay Watch’s key programs include:
- Installation of oyster domes to help replace oyster habitat in areas where it has been lost.
- Installation of oyster bars to improve water quality, restore hard bottom and provide habitat.
- Salt marsh grass planting to help prevent erosion, buffer uplands from storms, absorb pollutants and provide shelter and nursery areas for fish and wildlife.
- Sea grass planting to help restore badly depleted sea grass coverage in Tampa Bay which in turn will help re-establish the bay’s natural food chain.
- Invasive plant removal to remove non-native plants that outgrow and replace native plants.
- Monofilament cleanup to remove monofilament line and other entangling debris from coastal bird sanctuaries during non-nesting season.